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“Why are men so difficult to buy for?”

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Our first Christmas together, lovely Stylist readers!How are you getting on?

This is absolutely my favourite time of year bar NONE. Birthdays? Nothing but trouble. When you’re young, they’re your first introduction to the existence of the anticlimax (Party!Games!Cake! Tears!Bed!) and when you’re older, just a reminder you’re marching inexorably closer to the grave. No games, plenty of tears and bed with comfort cake.

Bonfire Night is great but there’s too much standing around in the cold and not enough food involved. And Halloween is rubbish. Christmas is where it’s at. Christmas rocks. I love it beyond measure. I’m all ready. Tree’s up. Cards are sent. Food, booze and crackers are bought and all presents are wrapped. Well, almost all. My mother’s, sister’s and girl friends’ are – a panoply of, if I do say so myself, lovely things. Handmade cushions from a local craft fair, Prestat fruit creams, Rococo chocolates, earrings, the skirt from Per Una my Mum wanted but wouldn’t let herself buy because she still thinks that spending more than three and six on something you can’t live in or drive away amounts to a mortal sin, the Bobbi Brown make-up my sister wanted (I gifted myself the free samples from the sales lady. Christmas, I believe, is the season to be jolly, so it seemed sensible to lend myself a helping hand) and other assorted gewgaws that I have spotted over the year and known were just right for her and her and her… Oo, and her, I nearly forgot her!

But this and every other year one stubborn knot of difficulty remains, impeding the heady rush to pleasure – namely, the men. As I write, there are but nine days left till Christmas and my husband, my father and my male friends still have virtually nothing to their names. My baby’s a boy, but still primarily a baby so a) he doesn’t need anything and b) self-gifting counts as buying presents for him. Happy mummy, happy baby, you see. Hmm. I think I may have just crossed the line from self-gifting to self-serving there… Let’s move on.

Men have fewer, narrower interests. They don’t dabble, they pick a pastime and hobby the hell out of it

Why, why are men so difficult to buy for? I know my dad as well as I know my mum, my husband as well as he knows himself and my male friends – if not quite as well as my female friends, at least well enough to be able, in theory, to sling an appropriate present their way when the need arises. But I can’t.

When it comes to present-buying it feels like all the gender stereotypes are true. Forced to imagine what they would like, I realise I know next to nothing about the boys’ interior lives. Apparently, and unwittingly, it just doesn’t come up in our conversations. And I can’t risk extrapolating from myself. I did that with my husband and he vouchsafed me what he deemed, I think now correctly, an eternal truth: only women can reliably be made happy by the acquisition of a beautiful, creamy-paged leather notebook (“What do I write in it?” he asked, bewildered). In some of the most important ways, we have nothing in common.

Men have fewer and narrower interests. They don’t dabble, they pick a pastime and hobby the hell out of it. My friend Ian likes motorbikes. I don’t know anything about motorbikes. I don’t know anyone – apart from him – who could tell me about motorbikes and I hate getting people presents that have no element of surprise about them. Stephen likes gadgets, but a) he’s got them all, trust me, and b) have you SEEN the price of gadgets lately? My husband – well, he likes naval history and what I know about either battleships or the part they have played in our nation’s glorious past could be inscribed on the back of one of Mum’s new earrings. He, like Steve and Ian, is pretty much an expert in his chosen field, and amateurs like me who try to serve their needs are never going to get it quite right.

It’s a terrible failure of imagination, I know, but I still can’t work out how to get from here to there. What do they want? Male readers – please, for the love of God, WHAT DO YOU WANT? By the time you read this there will be just three shopping days left, but I need to know – for this year, for next year and all the years after that. Otherwise you’re all looking at a lifetime o socks, ties and novelty chocolates. And nobody, but nobody, wants that.

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan @stylist.co.uk; twitter.com/lucymangan

Main picture credit: Rex Features

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